Day 60: Freedom!
Peebles to West Linton. 12.2 miles. Miles to date: 880.4.
This must be some kind of rarified LeJog torture: arriving at lunchtime in a village that has absolutely nothing to do.
And I really do mean nothing – even the information sign is realistic about what poor, retiring West Linton has to offer the visitor.
The restaurant’s owners have gone on their two week summer break. There are no attractions. The bank’s closed down – naturally. And the pub opens at five. The only thing to do after checking into my new-build B&B filled with stuff you’d struggle to sell at the world's worst car boot sale is to go to the Co-op and buy food to eat on the village green.
I chomp my way through some crisps. Then a Mini Milk. An apple. A chomp. A sandwich. Another Mini Milk. After a while the cashier begins eyeing me suspiciously – especially when I ask if you get a free Mini Milk for buying three in a row – so I wander (slowly) back to the B&B and spend an amiable half hour lying on my bed putting together a commentary for a fictional visit from the Antiques Roadshow.
“We just love your B&B, Rosemary. There’s so much here that will be of interest to collectors.
"The poorly assembled IKEA cabinet with a large scratch on it is a great find. And we just love the faux leather pouffe which doesn’t colour-match anything in the room. How about the embroidered tea towel covering the tea and coffee tray so that guests might not realise they're there? A nice touch that.
"After careful consideration of these, along with the knitted headboards, the bath towels that are the size of flannels, the wall-mounted TV that has a screen slightly larger than an iPad and the cat figurines on the windowsill that make it impossible to open the window we’ve totted up the potential value of your belongings for auction…”
Rosemary: “Yes? Yes?”
“We think you should be insuring them for a sum of... 15 b i l l i o n pounds.”
I watched the minutes crawl by and the moment the clock struck five I was out the door faster than you can say Thank God for Netflix.
Where I ate the crisps and Mini Milk.
The reason for this lengthly sojourn in West Linton was that today’s walk – a brisk 12 miler – was over and done in four hours. It was mostly intentional. The next eight days will see me walk from the Borders to Fort William, with a handful of 20+ mile legs. I also wanted a gentle walk to break in my new boots (canvas, not leather; much lighter; a whole size bigger than the last pair; so far, so good).
How, then, was I to reach West Linton?
I wrote earlier this week about the right to roam laws in Scotland and how you can pretty much wander where you like north of the border as long as you don't wander into people's gardens, say, or onto firing ranges.
What would I do in this new land of endless rambling opportunity? Wander o'er Ben and glen shouting FREEDOM! in my best Mel Gibson American-Scots accent? Or would I, instead, stick to a track that's been trod for hundreds of years?
Yep, sod the freedom. It's a lovely thing to have – in theory – but the freedom to pick your own path over miles of moorland is like the freedom you get to pick from 100 brands of shampoo. All I need is one that does the job. If a path's been used for centuries by people who needed the most efficient route from north to south then that's good enough for me.
So I abandoned Robinson's baffling White Meldon cross-country orienteer and instead struck north out of Peebles – which I'd grown rather fond of on my rest day – and had a jolly old time following the beautifully clear Cross Borders Drove Road all the way to West Linton.
No idea what this was all about.
The views east: big rolling hills, pockets of woodland, distant farms.
For the first few miles the route was followed by pylons.
The weather kept a-changing. One minute there was blue sky, the next heavy showers.
There's a touchingly honest information board in the centre of West Linton which says: "As far as can be traced, no great national events took place at Linton."
While other towns and villages I've passed through have tied themselves in creative knots putting themselves on the map (I'm looking at you Alston!), Linton is happy to accept its humble place in the scheme of things.
Despite this, the board goes on to spend the best part of 1,000 words explaining things that have happened in Linton. Presumably the marketeer commissioned to write the text realised a big blank board would look humiliating so was forced to do some research to fill up the page. A bit like today's blog entry.
Most interesting to me was the information about Linton's strategic location on both the major North/South Drove Road that passes through the nick in the Pentland Hills known as the Cauldstane Slap, and the East–West route from Edinburgh to Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire. As a consequence, for many years West Linton was a popular stopping point for drovers herding their cattle from Scotland south.
At the peak of the droving era more than 100,000 cattle a year would pass through the Slap and down to West Linton en route to the markets in London. Each drover and his dogs looked after around 50 cattle, walking 10–12 miles a day and bedding down with them overnight to protect them from raiders.
Which sounds way more exciting than sucking Mini Milks on the village green.
Easy walking on wide tracks.
The views were good, though I was leaving the big hills of the Uplands behind.
Some of the walk was through pine plantations. The going was good throughout.
Abandoned cottage in the heart of the plantation.
By the turn of the 20th century the droving trade was no more. Tolls levied on turnpike roads, land enclosure, the agricultural revolution and the development of railways all contributed to its demise. While a few lone wanderers continued to cover drove road miles on foot and horseback, the centuries-old ways soon grassed over. The enclosure dykes crumbled, while brambles choked the sections of the trail that hadn't been blanket-planted with pines. When the few walkers who remembered the old ways tried to travel them again they were confronted by fences, thickets and bog. A centuries old road had been lost.
Which is where the story would have ended but for the commitment and work of Elsie Reid, a volunteer with the British Horse Society, who dreamed one day of riding the historic road once again.
It was the start of a long journey. Elsie's first job was to assemble a group of volunteers from both the horse and walking world. Together they identified routes from old maps and aerial photos, negotiated with landowners, applied for grants and then finally got their hands dirty building bridges, clearing paths and erecting waymarks to open this new ancient road through the Borders. It now runs for 52 miles from Harperrig in the north to Hawick in the south and has been recognised as one of Scotland's Great Trails – the creme de la creme of Scottish long distance routes.
Out of the forest and into remote Romanno Hope, Wether Law on the right, Drum Maw on the left.
The track above Flemington Burn.
Some of the gate opening catches were straight of the Crystal Maze. This one had three seperate elements to work out. I had to accept defeat after five minutes of trying.
In some areas the protective dykes, and trees above, remain.
At Romannobridge the Drove Road has no choice but to join the (busy) A701 for a short period. It then does a bizarre wander east to avoid tarmac on the B7059. I couldn't be bothered with that and stuck to the road instead.
Flower-filled drainage ditches on the flood plain.
Crossing the Lyne Water floodplain on the B7059.
By this stage there were showers and dramatic skies about.
Beautiful St Andrew's Church.
The main drag. That's the Co-op.
It's seven o'clock now.
Two pints down.
Do I risk another?
Seems a bit early to go to bed.
The Co-op will still be open, of course.
Might have had a staff change by now.
No great national events took place at Linton.
Next: Day 61 – West Linton to Winchburgh.
Previous: Day 58 – Innerleithen to Peebles.